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Why Breaking Down Trailers — Like the One for Nicholas Sparks' 'The Best of Me' — Is More Useful Than Describing Them

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 11, 2014 at 3:42PM

There's surely more than one way to preface a trailer, but Film School Rejects might have found the best way.
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James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan in "The Best of Me"
James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan in "The Best of Me"

Whenever a trailer for a major movie debuts, there's inevitably dozens of posts on film news and reviews sites about the trailer, what it's about, who's behind it, and so on. There's nothing wrong with that — you have to give your audience some idea of whether or not it's something they want to bother watching — but there might be a better way to approach trailer previews.

Writing for Film School Rejects, Kate Erbland did a second-by-second breakdown for the trailer to "The Best of Me," the new romance (yay?) starring James Marsden (yay!) and Michelle Monaghan (YAY!) and based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (*crickets*). Erbland points out that the trailer doesn't deviate at all from any other Sparks movie trailer, and that's precisely why it works and why fans of "The Notebook" and other Sparks adaptations will turn up in droves.

0:01 A nonsense quote! A quick search of the Google machine reveals that “there’s nothing more enduring than first love” is not exactly an “anonymous” quote, because it appears to have been crafted expressly for this film. It should really be credited to “Relativity Marketing Team.”0:11 A disaster sequence. Points to Sparks for not making it about cancer, however.

0:16 One character’s worldview that “everything happens for a reason” delivered via voiceover. Yes, everything does happen for a reason — it’s called cause and effect — but not in the manner that Michelle Monaghan’s Amanda is going for here. Like many fans of Tumblr and Pintrest and made-up nonsense quotes about love, Amanda seems to think that stuff happens (even terrible stuff) for an after reason, like bringing people back together. It’s a narrow and sort of depressing worldview. What of free will, Sparks?

0:24 A flashback!

0:27 A forced belief that a “teen” who is obviously good-looking — in this case, Luke Bracey’s younger Dawson — is somehow undesirable for a weird reason, like that he “doesn’t know how to flirt.” Does this guy look like he needs to flirt? This is the male equivalent of the “she’d be so pretty, if she didn’t have those glasses and ponytail” trope that’s so prevalent in teen-centric romances. Who cares if this guy can’t flirt? Look at his face!

Some critics choose not to watch trailers at all, as they don't like seeing parts of movies out of context and prefer to go in without preconceived notions of what the film will be (aside from possible knowing the director, cast and crew's previous work). I understand that view, but at the same time I think it's important to look at how movies are marketed and sold to audiences. There's an art to cutting a good trailer, whether it works as a standalone work of art ("The Shining") or just as a phenomenal tease ("Pulp Fiction" is a gold standard). That's not to say that we should be like the San Diego Comic Con fan who tweeted that the "Interstellar" trailer made him cry, but we should recognize the innate power of a good advertisement.

With this trailer breakdown, Erbland shows how a Nicholas Sparks trailer functions – "The Vow" and "The Lucky One" would have near-identical breakdowns – and why the films are consistently successful. It's not just the name and brand, but the promise of familiar feelings given by previous Sparks adaptations. That's exactly how Christopher Nolan trailers work. They promise of not just spectacle, but questions and awe.

The same goes for Wes Anderson, whose trailers are getting better and better at selling his films. Where "Fantastic Mr. Fox's" trailer is cut like a fairly standard kids movie preview (a poor fit for the film's style, which might partially explain its disappointment at the box office), both the "Moonrise Kingdom" trailer and the even better preview for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" take on a similar format to that of "The Royal Tenenbaums" trailer, from the cycle through the cast to a point where the music cuts out for a wry joke ("The police are here." "....tell them I'll be right down"). It's no surprise that they're the three most financially successful films of his filmography (yes, they're also among his best and most accessible films, but the marketing had to have helped).

All of this is to say that the trailer breakdown might be the best way to write about them now. Yes, it's more time consuming, and it's still essential to give an idea of what the trailer is before analyzing how it works. But it seems infinitely more useful to write about trailers by saying "this is what it's doing" instead of "this is what the movie might be like, maybe."

This article is related to: Trailers, Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan


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